Brass instruments
Cylindrical Trumpet Trombone Baritone Tenor horn
Conical Cornet French horn Euphonium Tuba

The brass instrument family is divided into two basic types: cylindrical and conical

Cylindrical brass instruments consist of a tube of an even bore (or width) that stays the same almost to the end of the instrument, before flaring into a bell that produces a bright and brassy sound. Brass instruments with a cylindrical bore include the trumpet, trombone, tenor horn and baritone families

Conical brass instruments have a bore that widens gradually from an early point in the length of the tube to the bell, creating a dark, round and sonorous tone. Brass instruments with a conical bore include the french horn, euphonium, tuba and cornet families

All brass instruments have a powerful sound, large volume and the capability to dominate a musical ensemble: a characteristic that should be used responsibly! There are brass instruments present in almost every type of musical ensemble. Click on an instrument name above to view more information


Transposing instrument, notated in treble clef

TrumpetTrumpets were discovered in the tombs of Egyptian kings, and documented in the Bible. They are one of the oldest instruments on the Earth, and have maintained a steady role as loud fanfare instruments. The modern trumpet consists of a length of tubing, with a mouthpiece at one end, and three (or sometimes four) valves used to lengthen the air column. The second valve lowers the pitch a half-tone, the first a tone, and the third a tone and a half. The different harmonic series produced by these various lengths of tubing are enough to produce a fully chromatic range over three octaves. Trumpets come in various transpositions; from the Piccolo trumpet in A, Bb or C, through D and Eb to standard trumpets in C and Bb, down to bass trumpets in Eb and Bb. Trumpets participate in almost every field of music, from jazz, classical, rock and pop to latin, dance and lots of more contemporary styles. There are many other members of the trumpet family, including the slide trumpet, the cavalry trumpet and the bugle.
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Transposing instrument, notated in treble clef

CornetThe cornet is identical in range to the trumpet, but has a rounder, darker tone due to its conical bore. There are two regular cornets: the Bb cornet and the Eb (or soprano) cornet, although the long cornet is still in use. The cornet in A (common in the Nineteenth century) and the alto cornet are now extinct. There is only one soprano cornet in each brass band. Originally in use in military and brass bands, the cornet joined the orchestra and gained a following in the jazz world by the Twentieth century. The most famous cornet player in history was Jean Baptiste Arban, who applied many flute techniques to the cornet, thus expanding the instrument's possibilities. In the second half of the Twentieth century the cornet was increasingly confined to the brass band, and now is rarely seen outside those ensembles. The cornets larger cousin the flügelhorn, also in Bb, is used widely in the jazz and commercial worlds as well as in brass bands.
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Notated in concert pitch in (mostly) bass and tenor clefs, treble clef Bb for brass bands

TromboneLike the trumpet, the trombone evolved as a fanfare instrument and is present in almost every musical ensemble available today. They were an early inclusion to wind bands, brass bands and the jazz world, having already joined the orchestra via early opera composers (who often sought to convey sad or frightening scenes with the trombone section!). They are cylindrical, point directly at the listener and change pitch by the use of a slide. Trombones with a trigger can bridge the gap between the bottom of the range and the pedal notes, creating a chromatic range over four octaves. They are often paired with their soprano cousin the trumpet, in jazz or latin bands. There is a large family of trombones, from the soprano through Eb alto and Bb tenor (the most common), to the bass and contrabass. Most orchestras have three, big bands four, and string orchestras none at all. There are various lesser-used trombones as well, including the valve trombone and the flügelbone. In a brass band the trombones are written in treble clef Bb (except the bass trombone), but in all other ensembles they read concert pitch in either the bass or tenor clefs.
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French horn

Transposing instrument, notated in treble clef, and bass clef for low range pre-Twentieth century

French hornThe mighty french horns in an orchestra are famous for their sweeping melodies and strong sound, but began as a hunting instrument. They are longer than a trombone, wound up in coils with a wide, flared bell. They are also conical, possessing a beautiful sound that has been utilised by classical composers and filmscore writers alike. Horns have three rotary valves, unless they are a double or triple horn, in which case they can have up to five! All old horn crooks and transpositions have now been superseded. Because the modern double horn is pitched in F, it often plays a pivotal role between brass and woodwind or strings. It is also well suited to chamber work, but has never really been considered a jazz instrument. The only other version of the horn is the mellophone, a cylindrical marching horn used in American marching bands, and a section of these were used in the Stan Kenton Big Band for many years. Wagner invented the Wagner tuba, really a larger horn and not a tuba at all, and it is played by horn players. Many other classical composers have written for this instrument, including Strauss and Bruckner.
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Transposing instrument, treble clef Bb

BaritoneThe baritone is in Bb, and has three piston valves. They really only have a specific role in brass bands (with two baritone parts), but are often used interchangeably with euphoniums in concert bands. This instrument never made it into the classical world, due to its cylindrical bore and thinner sound, but occupies an important place in the tenor range of the brass family.
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Can be notated in bass clef concert pitch, or treble clef Bb

EuphoniumOften mistakenly referred to as a baritone in American bands, the euphonium has a warm, strong tone and also occupies the tenor role in brass and concert bands. Many orchestral composers have added the euphonium to their works, often calling it a tenor tuba (Holst) or posthorn (Mahler), but the euphonium still only regularly appears in the band world. Euphoniums have three or four piston valves, and can be manufactured in a straight-out fashion (like a trumpet), as in American marching bands. In brass bands, the euphonium usually reinforces the melody or plays gentle, warm solos. There is a vast repertoire of solo euphonium music, from Victorian era classics to very modern works from around the world.
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Tenor horn

Transposing instrument, notated in treble clef

Tenor hornThe last surviving member of the Saxhorn family (invented by Adolph Sax, the same guy who invented the saxophone), the tenor horn is in Eb and has a written range similar to that of the cornet. It provides the alto voice in a regular brass band, the only ensemble to which it now belongs. It's role is comparable to the violas in an orchestra: often unfairly relegated to the accompaniment! Most concert works will have a solo passage for the tenor horn, and their power is important in louder parts of any work.
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Notated in bass clef. Treble clef Eb or Bb for brass bands

TubaThe tuba is the bass end of the brass family. The modern instrument has evolved from several different ancestors, including the French bombardon and ophecleide, and the wind band serpent. Presently there are four common tubas, pitched in C or F (for use in orchestras and classical ensembles) and Eb or Bb (for use in the band world). All have a wide range and a deep, powerful sound. It is not uncommon to have four or even five valves on the tuba, usually piston valves but sometimes rotary. There is usually only one tuba in an orchestra, two or three in a concert band and four parts in a brass band (two Eb and two Bb). Long considered just a bass instrument, the Twentieth century saw an increase in the solo or concerto repertoire for the tuba.
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